best film:  Brazil from Terry Gilliam

  • Brazil is Terry Gilliam’s magnum opus, one of the truly great films of the 1980s, and at the same time one of the very best films of the sci-fi, comedy and fantasy genres.
  • A savage comedy featuring terrorism, paranoia—veiled shots at the Reagan/Thatcher conservative dominance in the 1980s. A designed dystopia that also is consistent (and the pinnacle) of Gilliam’s garbage/hoarder art (the ducts going through each set is so inspired) expressionism. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a clear acolyte of Giliam’s, called it “retro-futurism”
  • Like Lanthimos’ fisheye lens in 2018 for The Favourite– Gilliam uses the wide-angle camera lens here to emphasis the sheer madness of the place. A trademark of his you’d see more and more in his work following.

Gilliam also uses the overhead camera to mimic surveillance – a way to acknowledge an emphasis the Orwellian nightmare—this is 1984, or Kafka—Welles’ own The Trial would be a good double-billing with Brazil. Characters are constantly captured behind lines or prisons like Rivette’s The Nun.

Like say the flashbacks in Midnight Cowboy, Hiroshima Mon Amour or the scene of the cast walking down the empty road in The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie– Gilliam’s formal connective tissue here includes weaving in the surrealism fantasy sequences. Jonathan Pryce, absolutely genius as everyman Sam Lowry, is flying through the clouds, battling demons, escaping reality (he has a picture of Marlene Dietrich in his room and the film often has characters escaping reality through the movies- Casablanca).

It is the middle film in Gilliam’s imagination trilogy- starting with Time Bandits in 1981 and ending with The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in 1988.

  • Gilliam echoes both Metropolis and Blade Runner in his square block designed dystopia. Detailed miniatures (there’s even a little inside joke with an old man building a miniature in the film) and set pieces—this is a marvelously inventive world.

Heavy use of the wide-angle lens in the torture room sequences at the 125 minute mark. The dreadful smile of Michael Palin (pitch perfect) wearing the baby mask walking towards him as the resistance (led by De Niro) repel down on ropes like the James Bond movie Thunderball.

What bravura a set piece

  • It is definitely De Niro’s Harry Lime The Third Man performance—perhaps not on that level but a few minutes, in a gigantic masterpiece, an important character talking about most of the film.
  • An enormous masterpiece


most underrated:   Paul Schrader’s Mishima (this best film as a director- and Schrader has been a staple in this category), Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa and Peter Greenaway’s  A Zed and Two Noughts cannot be found on the TSPDT consensus top 1000 list. Since Greenaway’s work is the best of the three, it is the ultimate choice here:

  • It is major leap forward for Greenaway.
  • Like most of the rest of his films, there is a symbolic death ritual finale.
  • Also, like most of the rest of his work there is a large amount of cataloging in the film- Greenaway is a pure artist but there is also a mathematician in there somewhere- he is very numerical and formal in his approach.
  • Rhythmic in the editing
  • Greenaway is one of the most instantly recognizable auteurs—perverse and postmodern—there’s an abundance of twinning and detailed mise-en-scene staging
  • Bird obsession in all of his films
  • About 20 minutes in there is a jaw-dropping shot of a row of columns that likes like something from Welles, Dreyer or Tarkovsky
  • Again, there’s clear self-referential auteurism here- in a newspaper article Greenaway basically lays out the plot of his next two films (including The Belly of an Architect).
  • His fascination with the Zebra is clear with the juxtaposition of color.
  • I wonder what Greenaway thought of Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers which came out after and also perverse doctor twins.
  • The Vermeer painting is a character in the film—he is painting the frame here and copying like he did in Draughtsman.
  • The score is a bit of a jig and reminds me of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.
  • The twins grow more similar and dress more and more the same as the film goes along- they don’t look anything alike to begin with.

the reversal of the shot above at the top of the page – the mise-en-scene is masterpiece worthy- gorgeous, symmetrical, and absolutely packed—Greenaway is one of the great masters of composition and arrangement.

Nothing in the film or frame is accidental or just shows up once-it’s so formally sound and tight- it all comes back.

certainly a precursor to Wes Anderson



most overrated:   Lasse Hallström’s My Life as a Dog lands in the top 10 of 1985 for the TSPDT consensus and it should not be there. I also was not blown away by Varda’s Vagabond the first time I approached it.

  • Vagabond is in many ways a companion piece to Cleo from 5 to 7, probably still Varda’s greatest work. Here though, unlike with Cleo, her subject is truly unexceptional- not a beautiful pop-star (she’s a hobo here). Unlike Cleo lost in a sea of people she is on her own. It is still a meditation on death (having this told in flashback knowing of her demise changes the entire narrative—such mystery, tragedy and immediacy like Cleo which basically starts with a death sentence given out by the Tarot-card reader)
  • Structure is a splintered flashback from other people’s interviews like Citizen Kane– very well done- a brilliant choice- gives immediacy to the whole thing
  • Varda’s most neo-realistic film—harsh rural setting like Antonioni’s Il Grido– frankly her character is the same too a series of bristly interactions for a person that cannot cope—matching the landscape- grey, cold and rough – she scowls and barks the entire film
  • I think it clearly influenced the work of the Dardenne’s and von Trier though his female protagonists are more clearly the victim set amongst vipers
  • Again, as far as character, she is not someone with hidden talent or special- a true nobody or everywoman– and I think that was a goal of Varda
  • I guess after her trio of other films- La Pointe Courte, Cleo and Le Bonheur I was disappointed in the photography. That is a high bar but this is not on that level and that’s why this isn’t in the MP or MS category. I do appreciate the dedication to realism and the creative narrative structure.


gems I want to spotlight:  William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in L.A. is a fabulous crime story that is not often talked about by cinephiles or remembered enough.  And Fletch (yes, the Chevy Chase comedy vehicle) gets a quick mention here- I almost have to watch once a year for the Harold Faltermeyer music score alone.

  • Fletch rolls- the fantastic score helps, the quick-paced editing (entire thing 100 minutes) Chevy’s Fletch gets a proposition to murder someone for $1000 under the name Ted Nugent in 7 minutes- haha
  • Great sardonic noir-like voice over narration
  • Chase’s trademark smugness— “you’ve got the wrong gal”—He’s firing away—Dana Wheeler Nicholson (adorable) says “are you always this forward?” and he says “only with wet married women” when she answers the door in a robe.
  • Geena Davis, Emmett Walsh, Joe Don Baker in support- lots of talent.
  • The film could also be summarized as a Peter Sellers master of disguise film meets Chinatown (very LA).
  • The narrative and mystery is compelling—the insurance guy named “Stanwyck” (nod to Wilder’s masterpiece noir Double Indemnity).
  • Harold Faltermeyer’s score is unreal—not sure it’s in the archives without it—such a great breezy riff—adds to the film an incalculable amount.
  • Like with many comedies or horror films—make it a good movie then add the humor/horror element- it works it- this is as a regular film and then you add Chevy Chase jumping off the top rope with the voice over and dry delivery.


trends and notables:

  • If Ran, Back to the Future and Mishima are the fourth, fifth and sixth best films of the year—you have a very strong year on your hands indeed. Brazil is head and shoulders above the rest, but there is not much separating the next five best films of 1985.

Back to the Future is one of the great 1980s blockbusters and the finest work of Robert Zemeckis-. It touches parts of Frank Capra, mainly It’s a Wonderful Life, whilst also being a excellent statement on eras—much like Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump was, and is, a statement for the baby boomer generation this film speaks to the 1980s Reaganism (Biff waxing the BMW) and neo-conservatism (captured in post WW2 suburban America here). It is a fascinating study.

Philip Glass’s luminous score and John Bailey’s photography in Mishima

Schrader adores the use of Venetian blinds- he’d echo what he did in 1979’s American Gigalo here.

  • 1985 marks the first archiveable film for Hsiao-Hsien Hou. Hsiao-Hsien Hou would go on to be a leading figure in the Chinese New Wave movement of the 1980s.

The Time to Live and the Time to Die, – it is most notable for the hypnotically beautiful compositions. HHH does not move the camera, does not work in close-up really, but delivers these elegant bodies in the wide frame, shoji doors, depth of field frames.

Oddly enough HHH claims to have never seen an Ozu film at the time of making this film. That is almost impossible to believe- HHH is his own filmmaker, but to say more than a few words about this film without mentioning Ozu would be crazy— static camera, immaculate mise-en-scene arrangements, family drama, shoji doors… I’m sorry but that’s Ozu…the death of the father here… look at the background detail, the door blocking the front left, the figure in the background through another set of slightly open shoji doors

  • He is not a major auteur by any stretch, but if we are talking about trends and notables certainly John Hughes is worthy of a mention here. Breakfast Club is here in 1985 and the start of a nice three year run that includes Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (1987).

the brief, and sublime, John Hughes era

  • The great Kurosawa is back in a big way with a masterpiece in 1985— his best film since 1963’s High and Low.

The shot of Nakadai’s character leaving the burning castle and descending the steps at the 72- minute mark– with the red and yellow color guards on both sides is a jaw-dropper—a set-piece that has rarely been topped- reminded me of the sequence with the oil rig in PTA’s There Will Be Blood.

Ran is many things  including a great achievement in color, and in the long distance shot… but this simple, but elegant composition is one that stuck with me for weeks after my most recent rewatch

  • Though they have been working together for decades already, 1985 is the big step forward for the Merchant Ivory team with A Room with a View. It’d say it is their best film to date, and it is, but it is more than that, it sort of launches them on a great run that will late until 1993’s The Remains of the Day.

the unspoken poppies/barley field kiss scene is sublime filmmaking

  • Jackie Chan’s Police Story is an action success with Chan doing his aerobatic Buster Keaton-like stunt work.
  • There is a plethora of strong acting firsts in 1985 as far as the archives go- especially with the women’s side- none more prominent than Juliette Binoche in Hail Mary. Godard clearly had an eye for talent and is a part of another big first with the young Julie Delpy in in Detective. Maggie Cheung is the chief talent to emerge from Police Story (no offense to Jackie Chan) and Judi Dench in A Room with a View gets her first archiveable film at the age of 51. Binoche, Delpy and Cheung combined are only 58 years old so kudos for Dench for embarking on a stellar career (she had been doing theater and television prior) at such an age. Willem Dafoe gets his start (the first of 25 films and counting in the archives as of the date I’m writing this) in To Live and Die in L.A. and Viggo Mortensen has a very tiny role in Witness.



best performance male:  I am pretty sure when I started doing this project I never thought about writing about a year of dominant male performances that include Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future) and Tatsuya Nakadai (Ran) but that is what we have here in 1985. I will add the great Ken Ogata to the mix (though he’s a distant fourth) for his work in Mishima. Nakadai’s performance as Lord Hidetora Ichimonji is unsubtle—but it is fitting with the film and size of the character/ego. Apparently, Zemeckis started shooting Back to the Future with Eric Stolz and it did not work and that makes sense because it does seem impossible to picture anyone but Fox pulling that role off. Pryce is perfection in Gilliam’s greatest film as the everyman who is getting stepped on and escapes in his dreams. Pryce’s work achieves both pathos and plenty of laughs.


best performance female:   The best performance of the year here in this category goes to Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo. It is the crowning achievement for her in the wonderful auteur/muse or director/actor collaborations she made with Allen. There are other films they made together that are better (Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors) but those films are more ensemble pieces and the pieces of the pie sliced much thinner for all of the actors involved (including Farrow- and you can’t say she gives the best performance in either of those two previously mentioned) whereas Purple Rose is really her show and she’s absolutely sweet, charmingly down to earth and approachable here. She is able to capture such audience sympathy. Behind Farrow we have Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede in Ran. It is hard to remember a darker character or performance in the Kurosawa universe. The last mention and slot here is for Meryl Streep in Out of Africa as the Baroness Karen Blixen. Out of Africa is gorgeous throwback epic and her lead performance and work with accents is amongst her best career work. I adore this film and her performance in it. Streep is on a torrid pace since arriving on the scene in 1977. She has been in eight archiveable films in nine years – getting a mention in this category for three of those years.

The Purple Rose of Cairo is the finest performance from Mia Farrow in all of her twelve (12) archiveable films made with Woody Allen

lush aerial photography (The English Patient) and that majestic John Barry score (Dances With Wolves)- Out of Africa precedes both of these great elements from these future epics (and best picture winners… all three actually)




top 10

  1. Brazil
  2. A Zed & Two Noughts
  3. The Time to Live and a Time to Die
  4. Ran
  5. Back to the Future
  6. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
  7. The Purple Rose of Cairo
  8. Out of Africa
  9. Come and See
  10. A Room with a View


arresting images from Elem Klimov’s Come and See

it does not measure up to the 1981 film that precedes it, or the 2015 masterpiece, but George Miller’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is still worth seeking out and studying

Peter Weir and Harrison Ford teaming up for 1985’s Witness — Weir has been doing very solid work since Picnic at Hanging Rock a decade before in 1975


Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Room with a View – Ivory HR
The Time to Live and a Time to Die – Hsiao-Hsien Hou MP
A Zed and Two Noughts – Greenaway MP
After Hours – Scorsese HR
Back to the Future – Zemeckis MS/MP
Brazil – Gilliam MP
Code of Silence – A. Davis R
Come and See – Klimov HR/MS
Day of the Dead- Romero R
Death of a Salesman – Schlöndorff R
Detective – Godard R
Fletch – Ritchie R
Hail Mary – Godard R
Jagged Edge – Marquand R
Lost In America- A. Brooks R
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome – G. Miller R
Mask- Bogdanovich R
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters – Schrader MS
My Beautiful Launderette- Fears R
My Life as a Dog- Hallström HR
No End – Kieslowski R
Out of Africa – Pollack MS
Pale Rider- Eastwood
Police Story – Chan R
Prizzi’s Honor- J. Huston R
Rambo: First Blood Part II – G. Cosmatos R
Ran – Kurosawa MP
Runaway Train- Konchalovskiy R
Tampopo – Itami R
The Breakfast Club- Hughes HR
The Color Purple- Spielberg R
The Falcon and the Snowman- Schlesinger R
The Goonies – Donner R
Kiss of the Spider Woman- Babenco
The Purple Rose of Cairo- Allen MS
To Live and Die in L.A.- Friedkin R
Trouble in Mind – Rudolph
Twice in a Lifetime- Yorkin R
Vagabond – Varda HR
When Father Was Away On Business – Kusturica R
Witness- Weir HR



*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives